Friday, January 16, 2009

The Agony and Oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka

by Minnalkodi Sivan
Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)

On December 26, 2004, massive tidal waves swept the shores of Sri Lanka, a country once known as “the pearl of the Indian Ocean”. That day, the whole world stood still as they watched clips of the tsunami. Canadians contributed millions for the victims on the Island, not knowing that most of the aid would never reach the most devastated areas of North Eastern Sri Lanka, homeland of the Tamil people. Instead, most of it was diverted to Sinhala areas and the rest is still unaccounted for.

The divisions on the island can be traced back to Sri Lanka’s colonial past. The Island was initially colonized by the Portuguese and then the Dutch. The two parties ruled the Sinhala and Tamil kingdoms separately. But during British colonization, both homelands were combined for administrative convenience. When the British left, ruling power was given to the Sinhala majority, which has since brutally oppressed the Tamil minority.

As a result of the tsunami, over 500,000 Tamils became internally displaced persons (IDPs), with very little aid provided by the government. When foreign representatives visited to monitor progress in the affected regions, they were not exposed to the Tamil areas. When Global TV attempted to produce a documentary on post tsunami recovery, the producer was asked to sign a “letter of agreement” by the Sri Lankan High Commission. The letter had restrictions and conditions that violated freedom of expression and the right to freely access public information. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government has been ranked the #1 human rights violator and the second worst country for press freedom in South Asia. So the oppression and genocide of Tamils is being brushed under the Sri Lankan government’s blood-drenched rug.

In 2006, the Sri Lankan government withdrew from their ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE have been fighting for Tamils’ right to self- determination for over 25 years. As a result of the war, many more Tamils have been displaced. Currently there are over 300,000 Tamil IDPs in the war stricken areas, including many who are still displaced from the tsunami four years ago!

In September 2008, the government violated IDP rights by banning non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from providing aid to these areas, including basic human necessities such as food, water and medical care. Moreover, there have been ongoing indiscriminate bombings of IDP camps, schools, hospitals and even a church on Christmas Day. There have also been incidents of the usage of cluster bombs, a weapon which has been banned internationally by 120 countries except for China, India, Israel, Russia, U.S, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The situation is worsening with the arrival of the monsoon season as rain drenches and floods the shelters, leaving IDPs helpless and even more vulnerable to diseases.

Despite Canada being home to the largest Tamil diaspora in the world, the Canadian government has remained dangerously silent. The politicians do not want to intervene in this issue because they value Canada’s “strategic” partnership with India and other geopolitical interests more than the rights of the Tamil people. Regardless, such crimes against humanity cannot pass unnoticed. We have to stand united against any form of oppression by lending our voice to the oppressed and taking action. Visit for more information.